Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Brahms: The Boy II (2020)

FEBRUARY 21, 2020

GENRE: PUPPET, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

As a fan/defender of 2016's The Boy, I was excited and a bit vindicated when STX announced a sequel in 2018, and have been patiently waiting for it to come out ever since. Alas, four years is a long damn time to wait for this sort of thing as it's not exactly Star Wars or Avengers; I think 18 months is really the max that any studio should wait before putting out a sequel to a mid-level hit such as that one was, because people just forget about it. And that's especially true in this case, because the first film relied on a big twist in the third act to make up for what was a fairly slow first 75 minutes, making it the sort of movie that doesn't lend itself to repeat viewings. Well, at long last, Brahms: The Boy II is here and... oof.

In my review of the first film I was careful not to give away its twist, but it's been four years so I'm going to do that now as I assume you know or simply don't care: Brahms the doll was not alive, but Brahms the thought-dead boy was still alive and now an adult living in the walls of the manor for the past twenty years, turning the film into a low-key masked slasher film for its final reel. To me, that was what made the movie work as well as it did, as you spend the entire thing wondering if the main character was going crazy or if the doll really was alive like Chucky or the Puppet Master toys, only to discover that it was a third option you likely didn't consider. But now that we know that, how do you do a sequel that focuses on the doll again, since we live in a world where the Annabelle sequels clean up but the masked slasher movies tank? Apparently, the answer that the creative team and producers - all of whom return from the first film, mind you - came up with is "Fine, the doll is alive."

So Brahms the flesh and blood man does not return in this film, nor does it fully embrace the slasher-ness that it had to hide last time around. Instead, a new family led by Katie Holmes moves in to the guest house next door to the original big mansion, their son finds the doll in the woods that separate the two homes, starts acting creepy with it, etc. So any fan of the original is just waiting for the real Brahms to reveal himself, but he never does, though at least some of that unwelcome surprise is dulled by the 40 minute mark or so, as that's around when we see the doll move (only slightly, to be fair) in one of the rare scare scenes that aren't the result of Holmes' character having a nightmare. Worse (spoilers ahead, because I don't care this time), the backstory we get a little while later retcons the original, chalking the real Brahms' behavior up to possession by the doll, and then going back and showing how that his family was just one of several to live there and meet with tragedy, always blaming the doll for the murders and accidents.

Quite frankly, this sort of revisionist approach sucks, and stinks of the same over-complicated mythology that made the first two Annabelle movies such a slog (the third, where they finally just let Annabelle be creepy and put her alongside other evil things, is the best). A disturbed child attaching himself to a doll is interesting, but a doll continuously possessing family after family over a hundred plus years is not. It just feels like a way to turn this into an ongoing franchise (with prequel possibilities), which is somewhat expected for any horror sequel (no one wants to stop with just part 2) but not if it had to come at the expense of what worked about the original. It feels like jumping from the first Halloween to Curse of Michael Myers, but worse because at least John Carpenter and Debra Hill didn't have anything to do with that one. Why do the people who made The Boy suddenly want to shit all over The Boy?

Making things even more frustrating is the fact that William Brent Bell and Stacey Menear seemingly lay the groundwork for another real-world explanation for the film's events. In the opening sequence we see Katie Holmes come home from work, activate a security system, and then facetime with her husband about how he will be working late again. So when she's woken up in the middle of the night by a pair of robbers, one could reasonably deduce that the hubby hired some guys (or is one of the masked robbers himself, having lied about working) to attack his wife in order to get an insurance payout, or even kill her to be with another woman (with the kid being a wild card), as evil movie husbands often do. Other events in the movie that are chalked up to the doll (or the kid) could have been the husband (in fact in one instance it would make a hell of a lot more sense than what we're ultimately told), and had they gone that route, it would have allowed for another twist (albeit a less surprising one) and retained the established "no supernatural hooey" rule from the first.

But no, dad's not an evil jerk, he really does just work late and we are never given an explanation for how the two robbers managed to bypass the security system that Bell and his editor (Brian Berdan, also returning from the original) took the time to establish, or what they wanted, or why they tried to kill Holmes (she actually seems dead*) but left the kid alone. As for why the man is conveniently absent every time Brahms does something naughty, I can only guess Bell/Menear wanted us to suspect him so they could pull an inverse of the first film's reveal (so going from "not a ghost - a real killer!" to "not a killer - a real ghosts"), but it doesn't work on any satisfying level, and it's never a good idea to retcon an earlier movie unless you know for a fact you're improving on it. It's not the first time a horror sequel felt made by people who never saw the previous entry, but it's certainly the first time it was actually made by the exact same people.

Honestly, I can't think of anything that works here. The young lad is effectively creepy when he starts dressing as Brahms, and I can give them a bit of credit for allowing a child to get injured in the movie's only real horrific act (even though it was spoiled on the trailer), but a few sprinkled bright spots can't make up for a film that's somehow even more slowly paced than the first one (unforgivable for a sequel) and actively goes out of its way to sweep its events and reveals under the rug. I could maybe just roll my eyes and forget about it if this was The Boy IX: Brahms Goes To Hell and they were grasping at straws, but this is only part 2 to a movie that didn't need a sequel in the first place. My unending affinity for Katie "Joey Potter" Holmes isn't nearly enough to overcome the film's uninteresting narrative decisions, near total lack of suspense, and - worst of all - seeming desire to tell me I was wrong to appreciate the first film's lack of supernatural elements.

What say you?

*When they cut to a few months later and Holmes was up and about, I spent a few minutes thinking this might be a Sixth Sense thing and she'd be a ghost the whole time, but it's quickly clear she's not as the kid's shrink addresses them both. She's just left with headaches from the ordeal, presumably to allow us to think she's just cracking up. But upon rewatching the first one this week as a refresher, I realized that the two main males in the movie were named Malcolm and Cole - the same as the two leads in Shyamalan's classic, so as dumb as it would have been to pull that twist here, at least "they both pay homage to The Sixth Sense" would give the two Boy films more in common than they actually have now.

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Pack (1977)

FEBRUARY 17, 2020

GENRE: PREDATOR
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

You never know what you might be in for with a post-Jaws killer animal movie. They might lean too heavily into aping Spielberg's classic, leaving you to spend the entire viewing wishing you were just watching Roy, Robert, and Richard do their thing instead. Or they might try too hard to make it stand out, resulting in an unsatisfying mess that serves no master. But some of them hit that sweet spot, where you're able to get into it enough to forget that it was probably greenlit by someone saying "What if Jaws but with a (different animal)?", and I was happy to discover that The Pack falls into that category.

The movie has been on my radar for years, but has never been given a decent DVD release (only a full frame one from Warner Archive) so never got around to it, settling for... er, The Pack (2015), which is not a remake but has a similar plot. I also bought a paperback book called The Pack a while back, thinking it was the one that inspired this movie, only to discover that it was a different one which had an even more similar plot (the one I got was written by William Essex; the one this movie was based on is by David Fisher). So I was happy to finally get a chance to see the one I wanted, on 35mm at the New Beverly, via slightly faded but otherwise solid print and with a bunch of good folks next to and around me. All that was left was to see if it was worth the wait.

And it was! It was thankfully not very Jaws-like, focusing on about ten people instead of just a few, isolating the action to a single weekend, and (best of all) staying away from any kind of "close the beaches" type subplot, opting for something closer to survival horror as they get trapped on the island and a storm knocks out their radio tower. Even better, there were no evil humans to distract away from the true threat of the feral dogs, so even when it briefly becomes a Night of the Living Dead/Assault on Precinct 13 kind of thing where our heroes have holed up in a house as the dogs try to get in on all sides, it's all about them working together and protecting one another instead of in-fighting.

Which is a good thing, because the dogs themselves are well trained but rarely get the opportunity to display much on-screen carnage. The body count isn't particularly high, and of that group, only two people are shown being attacked - the others die off-screen or basically get themselves killed as the dogs chase them without ever really interacting. If director Robert Clouse opted to make up for it with some asshole humans, it would weaken the overall threat that the dogs still posed, I think. Thanks to the relatively big cast of characters, it's always pretty tense because pretty much all of them could be a goner. There's hero Joe Don Baker, his girlfriend, their kids (one each from previous relationships), three local guys, and a group of city folk in "town" for a fishing excursion - and this being the '70s, you can't exactly be assured even the kids would be safe (I already mentioned Precinct 13, if you recall). There's an attack on the girlfriend at around the halfway point that really had me going (visions of The Car danced through my head), and that uncertainty lasted throughout the film's tight 95 minute runtime.

Even more surprising: Baker was pretty good! I'm more familiar with him as a heavy (Fletch, Living Daylights) or kind of a sidekick/comic relief type (Goldeneye/Tomorrow Never Dies, Mars Attacks), and I've never seen Walking Tall so when he's the hero I'm used to a guy and two robots making fun of him the whole time ("Mitchell."), but I found him to be a solid everyman type here. His character's job as a marine biologist never really comes into play (despite the island setting, he never even steps into the water), but he's a good dad to the two kids, loving to the girlfriend, and capable when it comes to fighting the dogs - it doesn't require an action hero type to play, just someone who can pull off those things when necessary, without looking silly.

The rest of the cast is good too, particularly Richard B. Shull as Baker's right hand man, who has the best possible role in one of these things: the guy you are absolutely sure will die and keeps getting in the thick of it, making you worry about him more than anyone else. I wish I could say the same for RG Armstrong, who is always great but has kind of a nothing role as the other island guy, who gets in a few good lines at the expense of the city people but otherwise serves no function and doesn't even get an actual final scene - his character rows away for help, has a heart attack or stroke, and gets rescued - but since Baker and the others take care of the dogs themselves and the movie ends there, it's not even clear if he ever woke up and told the guys who rescued him to send help to the island. I don't think he ever even encounters a dog! Also, if you're an Office Space or Cheers fan, you will enjoy a young Paul Willson (one of the Bobs in the former, Paul on the latter) as Tommy, the son of the city guy who just wants to read and look at birds even though his dad's secretary is throwing herself at him (at the dad's request, creepily enough).

As for the mutts, they are a mixed group, not all pit bulls or dobermans or whatever. The main one is a mutt, there's a Collie (Lassie, no!), a labrador, etc - in fact of all the common "big dog" types the only one I *didn't* notice was a St. Bernard, which is kind of funny considering how they would get a lock on evil movie dog breeds just a few years later. But there are also two good dogs to care about so you know the movie isn't just total anti-pooch. One is Baker's dog, who gets hurt early on but recovers and protects his people whenever the need arises. The other belongs to a vacationing family who returns to the city, a minor subplot that clarifies where all the dogs come from: people get dogs for their summer vacations there, and then leave them behind when it's time to return home, figuring they'll be found by someone else. Alas, they're not, and they turn feral and try to eat Joe Don Baker and his friends. Anyway, this dog wanders around a bit, joins the evil dogs for a while but never does anything bad as far as we know, and (spoiler for 45 year old movie ahead) is spared by Baker, who gives it some crackers in the film's closing scene, producing the greatest freeze frame to credits I've seen in ages.

Besides being full-frame, I assume the Warner Archive DVD is of decent quality if you want to see it for yourself, but hopefully Scream Factory or one of their peers can get their hands on it and do it right. It's not a masterpiece, but it's a really solid suspenser with a likable cast that milks its premise for all it's worth. Apparently it has very little to do with the book, which is fitting considering the aforementioned "no, different The Pack" confusion, but what they come up with worked really well for what it was, and was worth the drive to the New Bev (and presumably better than Fantasy Island, which is what I was originally going to see until seeing the Bev tweet that the movie was playing), as I usually only go when I can head over directly from work (15 min drive) instead of home (45-50 min drive). And I had a delicious ginger beer while I watched! A victory all around!

What say you?

P.S. The theater showed a truly strange instructional film about eating beforehand, which was quite fitting as it reminded me of the ones they would show on MST3k ("Mitchell.") when the movie was too short to fill the two hour block. It had nothing to do with dogs, but it starred Robert Benchley - grandfather of Peter, which I assume was the reason it was chosen. I was unable to find it online, but rest assured if it ever appeared on MST3k there wouldn't be much need for them to quip, as it was plenty funny on its own.

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: The Mole People (1956)

FEBRUARY 3, 2020

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

It's always strange to watch an MST3k'd movie for the first time without the wisecracks, as it leaves me with a conflicting "I've seen this movie a million times/I've never seen it before" feeling, making it interesting and somewhat boring at the same time. Such was the case with The Mole People, an episode I've seen far more than average since it was one of the first I had on tape (as previously explained, I never had Comedy Central until long after the show switched to "Sci-Fi" (now Syfy), so season 8 was my first real trip to the Satellite of Love); there were obviously lines and plot points that I never quite heard before as my focus was on the jokes, but there were just as many lines of dialogue where it felt odd not to hear the response that had burned into my memory ("a total load..." in particular, for those familiar with the episode).

But to be fair, it's not exactly a great movie. As explained on the accompanying retrospective piece on Scream Factory's blu (which includes the MST3k episode for good measure), this was one of the first movies to be made under Universal's new initiative to save money on the (already lower budget!) horror and sci-fi films by using stock footage whenever possible, and... well, oof. The plot concerns an expedition and a mountain climb, and pretty much every exterior shot is noticeably taken from something else before cutting to John Agar and the others on the tighter, not very convincing sets. And all of this stuff is in the first 20-25 minutes, before they enter the underground city (where there are no exteriors, obviously), so it kind of starts the movie off on the wrong foot, looking like the exact kind of movie that should be lampooned by a pair of talking robots.

It does improve from there, thankfully, once Agar and his buddies (well, fellow humans - he never seems to care when one of them dies) find the superior race of albino Sumerians as well as the titular Mole People, who are the monsters that would scare kids and would ultimately be turned into model kits and Halloween costumes. Naturally, he gets caught in the middle of their ongoing war, but while there's an Eloi/Morlock kind of thing going on, in this version the "Morlocks" (the Mole People) are more sympathetic, as they're beaten and starved as slaves by the dickish Sumerians. This, naturally, diminishes the "horror" aspect of the movie, but since it's all so goofy it doesn't quite land as proper sci-fi either, making it an OK enough timekiller but not much more.

Its biggest crime, however, is reminding me of Battlefield Earth, as both films opt to make their villains look hilariously stupid and in turn severely reduce any menace they post. In BE it was the notorious "they must love to eat rats" nonsense, here it's that they put all of their stock in Agar's flashlight, believing it to be fire from the gods and more powerful than any of them (the mole people and Sumerians alike, having lived in darkness for their entire lives, are basically blinded by the thing). So their plan is to steal the flashlight then have Agar killed, only for things to go awry because a. the flashlight died before they even got it and b. they didn't bother to check it prior to it being needed. It's one thing when one of the umpteen victims in a slasher movie point a gun at the killer and fire only to realize it's empty before they die - turning the basic scenario around on the villain and staging the entire climax around it is just laughable.

Also, it has a bit of a bummer ending, which I thought was rather ballsy of them, only to discover that (spoiler for 65 year old movie ahead!) the reason they killed off Agar's love interest was because, as a "Sumerian" (played by a blonde American woman), Universal feared audiences would be upset about the idea of an interracial relationship. So that's icky (not to mention harsh - why couldn't they - gasp! - simply be friends?), and doesn't help the movie's modern appeal any. The MST3k gang certainly watched worse movies over the years, but I wouldn't exactly say this one didn't deserve the treatment; it's got some old Saturday matinee charms for sure, but there are far better 1950s horror/sci-fi blends to choose from even in the relatively limited Scream Factory library of such things (The Fly and, fittingly, This Island Earth among them). Stick with those, or watch this one with the 'bots to increase your entertainment value. "Down, down..."

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Turning (2020)

JANUARY 23, 2020

GENRE: GHOST
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

You know you are getting old when a movie establishes its "period" setting with a news report of something you vividly remember happening. The Turning is based on Henry James' 19th century novella Turn of the Screw, but they didn't go back that far for this umpteenth adaptation (which will be adapted again later this year for Haunting of Bly House). Instead, after an opening scare scene that tells us something that's treated like a reveal later (the first of many signs of tinkering), we meet our protagonist Kate (Mackenzie Davis) as she listens to the breaking news that Kurt Cobain has committed suicide. Welcome to ye olden times of 1994, folks! And to my realization that we're now as far removed from that event as the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr were in 1994, i.e. something in history books. Christ, I am old.

However I'm not so old that I forget how movies work, but even if I was I still would have been joined by several other people in my (sparse) audience in shouting "Wait, WHAT?" (or other, more profane variations) when the credits began to roll. I am not a fan of hyperbole, but unless I am forgetting one I am comfortable saying that this movie has the most abrupt and baffling non-ending I have ever seen from a major studio release. Yes, the James novella ended ambiguously and one could expect a certain degree of "it's up to you to decide" in this one's climax, but... it doesn't HAVE a climax. The movie literally just stops cold after what seems like a setup for a twist ending that would run another ten minutes; if I hadn't been warned ahead of time that the movie's ending was so sudden, I would have been convinced that the DCP had a glitch and it somehow skipped over a chunk.

I say that mostly as a warning; I'll get into specifics later but I wanted to address the film's last minute collapse because I don't want my review to have the same effect as the movie in that it's perfectly fine until throwing a curveball (and ending the game before it gets to the batter, to keep the metaphor going). The 1994 setting aside, it's more or less faithful to the story - Kate is hired to take care of two orphaned children (Flora and Miles) in their stately manor after their previous "governess" (live-in nanny) left under mysterious circumstances, and the only other person in the house is Mrs. Grose, a suspicious housekeeper. Kate is there for all of twelve seconds when she starts seeing and hearing things, yadda yadda - and the ghosts seem to be affecting both children and Kate, but is it... all in her head?

Most of this material is fine. Davis and the two child actors (Finn Wolfhard and Brooklynn Prince) are quite good, and Barbara Marten as Mrs. Grose is the MVP, unnerving me far more than any of the ghost stuff with her strict demeanor and slavish devotion to the family. And the estate itself is a terrific location (the Killruddery House in Ireland); the story is set in America (I heard Maine, but I don't recall any particular state being mentioned) but they were wise to use a European manor to give it the gothic flair that is somewhat muted by the "modern" setting. Speaking of which, there's no real reason for it to be set in 1994 instead of 2020 (or 2018, when it was shot); the place is isolated enough to have the "no cell phone" thing working for it anyway and apart from the Cobain news report there's nothing else to firmly establish the time period. Once she gets to the house she only leaves the grounds once, so beyond having a car and a phone to call her friend and dump some of her inner monologue in conversation for the viewer's benefit ("I think Miles hates me" kind of stuff), I can't see anything about the movie being different regardless of what year it took place.

As for the scares, they're... well, I dunno. As I've said in the past, I usually use the crowd to gauge such things since I always see them coming a mile away, but the audience was too scattered to really judge - I didn't really hear much of anything until the end. There's a decent enough one with a mannequin that works mainly because it comes right after a more traditional dud one, so we're not expecting another so soon, but otherwise we will have to assume that the poster and trailer's assurances that it's from the writers of The Conjuring only serve to prove that maybe it was someone else who made that movie as scary as it was. But the real issue, and now we have to get into spoiler territory, is that the antagonist ghost, Quint, is a nothing entity; he's dead before the movie starts, we learn almost nothing about him until the movie's almost over, and he makes most of his 30-40 seconds' of screentime (a generous estimate) in quick shots in a mirror or window. The story and other filmed versions get into the idea that the ghosts of him and Ms. Jessel (the previous nanny) are possessing the children, but that never really comes across here outside of a nightmare scene where Quint and Miles seem to be blending together. We learnt that Quint was an abusive man who seemingly raped Ms. Jessel, but when Miles makes inappropriate comments to Kate every now and then it just comes off as a hormonal, spoiled teenager acting on his impulses, not possession by an older man. If you weren't familiar with the story, you'd probably never make that connection.

Plus, as I mentioned, the opening scene seems to have been added later, because it's pretty clear that Ms. Jessel is dead from what we see in it, yet throughout the movie we're told she just left and the discovery of her body is presented as something that we should be surprised by, so I can only assume that opening scene was added later to get the movie a quick scare at the top so audiences didn't have to wait a whole fifteen minutes to get to the first natural one (if that's the case, then at least I'll give them credit for not doing a flash forward). Then you consider that some of the trailer's big moments (i.e. the spider in Finn's mouth) do not appear in the film, and that Kate has some troubled history with her mother (Joely Richardson) that is never fully established or explained, and you realize that you're probably watching a hacked up version of what was probably a longer (read: slower) but more coherent movie.

But that's the usual kind of stuff - those other movies that might come to mind (Halloween 6, for example, where it would race through any scene of people explaining the plot) at least had identifiable climaxes, something this movie lacks. At first it seems like there's one, albeit a rather uneventful one - things get hectic, Miles finally snaps out of his "evil" mode and sides with Kate, and she puts the kids in her car to drive them away from the house to safety. A nice overhead shot shows them leaving the grounds, and then, out of nowhere, the movie flashes back ten minutes to an earlier scene where Kate got some creepy charcoal sketches from her mother. This time the scene ends a bit differently, then instead of the escape she visits her mother in the institution, and... then the credits roll. That's it. The fate of the children (and Mrs. Grose, who - spoiler again - dies in the "other" ending) is left unknown, we're not sure if she's really at her mother's or if it's a dream, we're never told what the black drawings are, etc.

Even a "she was just crazy and saving the children was all in her head" explanation doesn't work, because we see a ghost before she even arrives there, and a mannequin moves on its own without her or anyone else there to witness it. And Kate's fear of turning out like her mother doesn't have enough material to register - most audience members will have forgotten about the character by the time she re-enters the story by sending the unexplained sketches, and since we are seeing other people have their own scares (Flora won't leave the grounds because she fears she will die, Miles clearly sees Quint's ghost at one point), it never once has that "is she crazy or is this happening" element that is essential for that kind of material to work. Clearly, too many pieces of the puzzle were left out, either by hasty post-editing, endless rewrites (the film was announced with a completely different cast and director as far back as 2016), or some combination of the two.

Worse, it's got the 1994 setting (and somewhere, per the credits, a Screaming Trees CD - at one point she gives an album to Miles that we can't quite see, so let's assume that's it) but no actual '90s music! I was all excited thinking we'd get to hear some old-school grunge, but instead the handful of songs we hear are from modern indie bands? Nothing popular enough to send off the anachronistic alarms to anyone but those bands' fans, since they sound more or less like some of the smaller outfits of the time, but still an odd choice when they went out of their way to establish 1994 in such a grim way and then do nothing else with the dating. Perhaps that got jumbled along the way, too?

Apparently, Spielberg was once heavily involved here; he shepherded the project from its early development and was reportedly on set when filming began, per news reports of the time (the director has recently denied this, for the record). However, his name does not appear on the final version, which is perhaps even more evidence of what a mess this thing is, and another red check on Universal, coming off Cats and Dolittle (also nightmarish productions; at least this one was cheap). A handful of good performances and some nice Gothic atmosphere aside, the only reason to see this movie is to have some context for the day when we see a director's cut or get some concrete behind the scenes info, and also to maybe apologize to William Brent Bell for whatever angry outburst you had at the ending of The Devil Inside. That movie's Return of the King-style conclusive in comparison to this one.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Demon Witch Child (1975)

JANUARY 17, 2020

GENRE: KILLER KID, POSSESSION
SOURCE: DVD (BORROWED)

I saw Demon Witch Child during last year's New Beverly all night horrorthon, but as it played fifth in the lineup (starting around 4 am) the idea of me seeing the entire thing was absurd, and even when awake my mind was more concerned with, well, trying to stay awake than letting myself get caught up in the movie's shenanigans. So I missed a chunk of the middle and had rather hazy memories of most of the rest, and so I asked my friend (and trivia teammate) Amy to borrow her copy so I could see what I missed. And in true BC fashion, I didn't get around to actually watching it for almost three months, which means by that point I barely remembered what I saw, either.

But it's fitting that I finally finished "rewatching" today, because as I write this very review there's a bunch of folks at the Alamo Drafthouse in Houston watching Cathy's Curse with a video intro from yours truly, and Demon Witch Child is very much in the same vein, in that it's an Exorcist wannabe that retains the foul mouthed child but none of the quality. It's actually much more of a ripoff of Blatty and Friedkin's film than Cathy's was though; while that one was basically just "evil kid who swears now", this one has the head spinning, the priest, the mom going to see the priest to ask for an exorcism after doctors fail... hell, they even went so far as to hire the girl who dubbed Linda Blair's voice for the Spanish release to play the titular child. There are certainly more shameless Euro knockoffs of certain films, but this still serves as a prime example of a producer seeing a big hit American film and hiring some folks under the strict rule of "do the same thing, but cheaper and in 90 minutes!"

That said, there's one big difference: witches! The plot is a bit fuzzy due to weird dubbing, a very beat up print (from what I understand, the print we saw at the Bev was the same one they used to make this Code Red DVD), and the usual liberal approach to things like logic and coherency that these films offer, but from what I can understand there's a witch who is the prime suspect in a child's disappearance, and after being harassed by the cops she jumps out a window and dies rather than go to jail for her crimes. And so the rest of her coven does what anyone would do - transfers her soul into the still living and healthy body of a 12 year old girl, who - in fulfillment of the scriptures - starts swearing and killing those she considers responsible for the witch's (so, her) death.

And that's all well and good, but the movie can be a bit on the slow side, and somewhat repetitive - she gets fully possessed by the witch (she shapeshifts into the crone, and while the effect itself isn't good, I must say they did a great job of casting as the little girl and old woman share enough of a body resemblance that it does a chunk of the heavy lifting for those scenes), kills someone, goes home, turns back into the little girl, swears at her mom, and then the cycle begins again. In between these scenes are several (read: too many) of the girl's dad, a cop, a newspaper asshole, and a priest all trying to figure out what's going on. The father's political ties almost make it seem like they're cribbing from The Omen, too, but this actually came out a year or so before that one, so they're strictly aping Pazuzu.

One thing they took from that film, not often one of the copied elements, is Regan's ability to mimic voices. She only used it to freak out Father Karras, but our girl Susan uses this superpower to really mess with people, like calling her mother's lover and using her voice to get him to meet her somewhere for a rendezvous, only to kill him. She also does it to a cop while talking to him, prompting him to angrily yell "Hey that's my voice!" in the same manner one might shout after someone who just stole their car or something. These things, along with some other choice bits of nonsense (like the priest's old flame, who became a hooker after he decided to leave her to pursue a life in the clergy) help offset some of the film's slower elements, but - to be fair, like Cathy as well - it can try your patience from time to time in between goofy highlights.

But it's still an enjoyable way to kill 90 minutes; it might never actually be scary or suspenseful, but its gonzo charms more or less make up for it as long as you're not sitting down expecting to be frightened or tense in any way (that said, the ending is a bit of a downer, and she does attack a baby at one point, so be warned). I wish they could find a better print (and perhaps the original audio) to give it a proper presentation, but since we still don't even have Blu-rays of director Amando de Ossorio's far more famous Blind Dead films, I wouldn't hold my breath. Instead, it's packaged with a movie called The Possessed, which is amusing/confusing since DWC itself is also named The Possessed. The other one is about a guy who whips women and cuts their legs off, which sounds real lovely (sarcasm), so I don't know if I'll be getting around to that unless I hear it's worth my while and possible post-viewing shower. Granted, the best way to watch the movie is when you have no idea it's coming and are surrounded with fellow sleep-deprived (read: loopy) horror fans, but not everyone can have that, and the same version from the DVD is on Prime, so that's the next best option if you'd like to see for yourself. Double it with Cathy's Curse - it'll act as a form of birth control!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Cats (2019)

JANUARY 13, 2020

GENRE: WEIRD
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I wasn't planning on writing about Cats, because it's not a horror movie (no, I'm not going to joke around and dub it as one, even if the characters unsettlingly resemble humans with fur more than the cats they're supposed to be), but I changed my mind after I had a sorta nightmare about it after my viewing. Not a scary dream per se, but since I very rarely dream about movies I just saw, I found it interesting that my subconscious was still trying to process what I just saw. Indeed, the dream was basically about me being in the theater, trying to comprehend the film's narrative, at one point digging behind the screen where all the "gears" were (I mean, it was still a dream, so part of it made no goddamn sense) to make sure they weren't at fault for the weird nonsense on-screen.

When I woke up, I naturally had no better idea of what the point of the movie was, but it did get me thinking more about WHY the movie didn't work on any level. During my viewing I just laughed along with the rest of the crowd and struggled to get my bearings on the thing, without putting too much thought into why I was finding it so impenetrable, as I needed my complete brainpower just to keep up and even that wasn't enough. The dissection came later, at which time I realized that a huge part of the problem is that the movie never once calms down long enough to allow a viewer to step back and say "OK, this is what this world is, and this is how it works." Instead, you're just tossed into it (almost literally, as the closest thing the movie offers to an audience surrogate is introduced when its owner throws it on the street in a sack) and all of the movie's insanely high number of cats instantly start dancing and singing, and they never stop until the movie is over.

Yes, it's a "sung-through" musical, not one that has isolated songs between otherwise normal scenes. The longest pause (no, I will NOT say "paws", and damn you for thinking I would) is maybe 20 seconds, usually for a character to react to a song for a beat before starting their own. This can be a hurdle for any show if you're not prepared and have your ears properly tuned into the vocals, so perhaps people who are familiar with the stage version weren't as thrown off by the movie's idea of rhythm, but I, a total a newcomer, found it nearly impossible to focus on the lyrics. Why? Because Tom Hooper is a godawful director who never once makes the right choice with his camera and editing, so while a cat is singing about this or that, he's haphazardly cutting to other cats, moving his camera all over the place, and generally making it a god-level challenge to know exactly what we should be paying attention to, what's important, etc.

I should note for people who are just as unfamiliar with this particular show that there is no traditional plot on Broadway; from what I've gathered after reading up on it (again, in an attempt to understand it) is that the play basically has the same thrust as the movie, in that it's little more than a series of "scenes" in which a new cat is introduced, sings a song, and is then whisked away by the villainous Macavity (Idris Elba), who figures he can guarantee ascending to the "Heaviside Layer" (reincarnation/heaven kinda place, except one they all want to go to) by removing all of the other "Jellicle" cats from contention. That choice is made by Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), their leader I guess, and she isn't having much of Macavity's shit. So the cats have to stop him and get back so she can make the right call, and I assure you, the way I've described it makes it sound more involving than it is.

The movie bulks up the role of Victoria, one of the background cats in the play. She's the one being tossed off at the beginning, and for about 13 seconds it seems like the movie will be about her learning about this world, becoming something important, and maybe even being chosen herself, or at least having some part to play in the decision. That the play is so plotless that they felt they had to invent a main character for the adaptation was probably the first sign that maybe they shouldn't adapt it in the first place, but maybe it could have worked with a competent filmmaker behind it. Instead, they got Hooper, whose aforementioned directorial ADD undoes the material at every turn. Lead character or not, when you're at a play you have a fixed view on the proceedings, and stage lighting/the confined stage can assure you're focused and not being pulled in seven directions at once. You have no such ability here - Hooper can't even bother to keep from breaking the 180 rule, so their attempts at making it something accessible via Victoria fall completely flat, and after a while she's basically the same background player she was in the source material. When we first meet her she is told Cats have three names, their normal one (that'd be Victoria), their Jellicle one, and a secret one... and that's all there is to that, as she's never referred to by anything else.

If anyone knows one thing about Cats it's probably "Memory", but what they might not know is that the character who sings it is barely seen beforehand (at least, that's the case here - the movie is only 100 minutes whereas the stage show is over two hours, so some stuff got lost), so the song is really doing the heavy lifting there, because it's not particularly moving with regards to the character since we have such a minimal connection to her at that point (it'd be like if Audrey and Seymour sang "Suddenly Seymour" before Audrey II even showed up). Ironically, one of the few other bright spots is Victoria's "Beautiful Ghosts", a new song written for the movie - I can't help but wonder if the thing would have worked if they had taken the basic concept and the best songs and basically started over with a collection of new tunes and an actual plot to tie them together. Instead it's mostly just noise, with occasional moments of relative high quality. Unfortunately, in my opinion anyway, the best songs are near the end, by which point you've probably long given up. Sure, it's good that the most intolerable numbers (Rebel Wilson's and James Corden's) are gotten out of the way early, but when you add that to the aforementioned "you're just thrown into this thing" problem it might be too much to recover from for the average person.

The other huge problem is that the scale of the cats keeps changing, and none of the incarnations ever make any sense. I thought it was just a world run by cats (like how Pixar's Cars is run by cars), but an unseen human drops Victoria off, and later a pair of "bad" cats have her join them as they break into a house, only for the absent owners' dog to realize they're there and try to burst through the door of the bedroom they're ransacking. So they're essentially the same as housecats, but their size compared to the household objects and furniture is closer to that of mice - which is made even more confusing by how big they look compared to the actual mice (also humans in suits) when they show up a few times. Again, the movie never lets you understand how it works on a base level; it's one thing to have specific questions about how this or that would play out in this strange world, but to be kept in the dark about all of its "rules" is simply insane.

Long story short, it constantly feels like you missed the scene before the one you're currently watching, and that continues until the very end, which is actually impressive but doesn't make the movie good by any means. But it's not "so bad it's good" kind of stuff like The Room or Birdemic, either; apart from a few botched FX (yes, even in this upgraded version you still see Judi Dench's ring in a few shots) it's competent on a technical level, and actually doesn't have too many laugh out loud moments that spring from terrible decision making. The performers give it their all (Ian McKellen in particular nails it) despite their hideous costumes and some of the songs are actually catchy, but it can never settle into a groove, because Hooper is too terrible a filmmaker to reign anything in and find one. Exhausting maybe is a better word for it. Again, I suspect it might work better for those who are familiar with the story/songs already and just want to see what it's like in a different format, but I think everyone can agree that this was a misguided project at best. I'm glad I saw it for myself, but it's not even really worth ironic "let's laugh at this" kind of viewing - it's like an actual car crash in that you maybe can't look away but in reality wish never happened in the first place and hope only the guilty parties (Hooper, in this case) suffer from it.

What say you?

P.S. Hilariously, the Drafthouse showed an old PSA about safety from the cast of the Broadway show, and it's possibly a bad idea as it just shows how much better the usual costumes are than whatever it is Hooper was going for here.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Underwater (2020)

JANUARY 9, 2020

GENRE: MONSTER, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

If you've seen the trailer for Underwater, you'd probably remember the shots of Kristen Stewart - an employee on a big drilling platform/laboratory at the bottom of the ocean floor - noticing some water leaking from the ceiling before all the walls around her burst open and begin flooding the joint. Anyone who has ever seen a disaster film before would reasonably assume this is something that happens twenty minutes into the movie at earliest, maybe even more - but that's actually the first scene of the film, before we've even met anyone besides KStew's Norah, an engineer who is one of only six people we see in the film (save for two unlucky anonymous sods that try to run to safety and fail). Within moments, the filmmakers establish the very thing that makes the movie work: they're not going to waste much time on the things that ultimately won't matter.

A lot of reviews have compared the movie to Alien, and that's fine (if overblown; the two aren't really much alike beyond "some people are confined with a monster"), but there's actually a number of other underwater-set films in the same vein, such as Leviathan and Deepstar Six (plus another where you're supposed to assume the folks are in space but are in fact underwater, though saying the title would spoil that fun twist), and I think this tops the others*, mostly because it has the good sense to get moving fast and barely let up after. Those others took forever to get going and rarely delivered on the spectacle their one-line synopsis would suggest (Leviathan in particular seemed to favor off-screen deaths), but that's never much of an issue here. It almost seems to take place in real time as the characters navigate their way from their damaged section of the facility to another one (which requires two exterior walks along the ocean floor) that might have escape pods they can use to survive, and there's scarcely a dull or quiet moment until the credits roll.

If anything it perhaps swings too far in the opposite direction at times, as you really need to pay attention and keep your ears tuned if you want to catch all the exposition and character details that the film often races through. Most of the explanation for what Stewart and the others are doing down there is shown via news clippings during the opening credits (which are very Godzilla '14-inspired), including the fact that the movie is set in the future (2050, I believe I read), and it's not entirely clear what certain characters' jobs are - TJ Miller is the comic relief, but I highly doubt he was hired by the drilling company to be that, though if they say what he does on a normal day I missed it. The trailer shows a couple of quick "normal day at the office" shots of a few characters that aren't in the movie, so it's possible there WAS more of a traditional setup that got excised, though it's just as likely they had some B-roll of the actors and included the footage in the spot to just trick us. Either way, it's an interesting tactic to let their present situation inform us who they are and how they work together, and it mostly pays off, but it can feel a bit mercenary at times.

Speaking of Miller... eh. He's the "and" role and you can draw your own conclusions from that regarding how much he's in the film, but I was getting tired of his one-note performances/appearances before he even got "canceled" (the movie was shot in 2017, and had been tossed around on the schedule due to the Fox/Disney merger, though I'm sure Miller's presence hasn't helped). A couple of his lines are funny enough, but I don't think he says anything that's not meant to make the audience chuckle, so it's just tiresome. Everyone else contributes something meaningful, and I was relieved to discover that none of them were evil/cynical humans in the vein of Aliens' Paul Reiser (or Meg Foster, to stick with the Leviathan comparisons), and even though some of them didn't even really know each other (Norah actually has to introduce herself to the first survivor she meets) they all work together and have each others' backs. It's quite refreshing, really - I can't even remember the last time I saw Vincent Cassel playing a normal, caring guy.

Also, they do that thing that Quiet Place did, where a character kind of has to act dumb early on in order to sell the gravity of the situation to the audience. Here it's a guy seemingly knowing he had a faulty diving helmet before being submerged, which gets him imploded almost instantly (which, with the fact that the movie itself doesn't take much time to get to the action, means it's only about ten minutes in) and very clearly proves to the audience that even though there might be monsters out there, they're far from the only thing they need to worry about. Most underwater movies take the time to explain the dangers of water pressure, surfacing too fast, etc - but rarely show the effects, and it can be hard to wrap your head around if you aren't personally familiar with the risks of such things. But when you see a guy explode all over his coworkers because of a tiny crack in his helmet, you know exactly how dangerous their predicament is, monsters or not.

But there are indeed some monsters, and they're kind of great? I don't expect much from our modern creature features, as most tend to be vaguely tentacle/thorn-ridden shapeless blobs of CGI that I couldn't describe to someone later or even recognize if I saw a drawing or model kit without context (the Cloverfield monster is an excellent example of this sort of thing). But these are well designed and appropriately scary, with the ability to unhinge their algae-like jaws and swallow someone whole like a snake. They're used sparingly, but as the film goes on you see more and more of them, leading to a terrific final reveal that legitimately stunned me; not a "twist", just something I wasn't expecting the film to include. And keeping with the seeming commitment to trimming the fat, there's thankfully no explanation for what they are, how they survive, etc - we know they came up from the drilling, and that's all we need to know.

(Skip this paragraph if you don't want some mild spoilers!)

There's also a third scary idea: the bends, or decompression sickness. One character suffers a mild case of it and gets a bit loopy for the rest of their screentime, but they occasionally almost seem to be trying to get you thinking that Stewart (who is quite good) might be the actual killer, not the monsters. There's a scene where she gets separated from the others and starts having quick flashes to earlier moments, and we see her hands shaking every now and then - i.e. standard "they're going crazy" kind of movie cliches, and that's followed by a scene where she finds one of the others and the person almost seems terrified of her. Turns out the other person was just confused and having trouble seeing in the water, and to be honest I'm glad it didn't go that route, but I wouldn't doubt that there was some inkling of that idea in early development. As it stands, it's a nice bit of misdirect, not to mention an extra obstacle for the characters to overcome.

Basically, as "January horror movies" go, it's one of the best, and by that I mean it didn't deserve to be dumped off as one. It's bad enough the studios so rarely greenlight original creature features like this (let alone at hefty budgets), it's worse when they basically ensure that they flop by tossing them out with little fanfare. There's almost no chance that the movie becomes a box office success, and while that doesn't mean a goddamn thing to you or me re: our enjoyment of this film, it does mean that the next dozen or so original monster movies that get pitched to a major studio will almost certainly be rejected, as if it's the audience's fault that they didn't go see a movie with a bad release date and next to no marketing. At its best, the movie is able to rely on that same thing that The Descent did, in that it's almost scary enough without the monsters, and at 95 minutes, even if they DID trim some of the talkier stuff, they didn't do so much that it feels completely compromised like an old school Dimension flick. Nope, for the most part it feels just right, and I walked out having enjoyed myself. Plus I thought of Armageddon at one point, which is always a plus in my house.

What say you?

*Not The Abyss, which is often lumped in with the others despite being a straight sci-fi/adventure film; the creatures are not scary in any way so I don't see it as part of the group, really.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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